Former Democratic Alliance (DA) leader and Western Cape premier Helen Zille said on Monday she wanted one last chance to get the party back on its feet.
Zille announced that she would be contesting the position held by outgoing federal executive chairperson James Selfe hours before nominations closed on Friday, News24 reported.
Party leader Mmusi Maimane's supporters were left reeling after the shock announcement, which places Maimane's favourite for that role – federal executive chairperson Athol Trollip – on the back foot, according to City Press.
Speaking to eNCA's morning host Jane Dutton on Monday, Zille said she decided to make herself available firstly, because she was "asked to" and secondly, because she believed she could bring "unity and stability to the party again".
"I think [the DA] is suffering very much at the moment. It has been through a tumultuous and traumatic period. It's a party I invested my whole life in. South Africa's democracy depends on the DA succeeding and I would like to put every effort I can into it again."
However, she said she had no intention of becoming party leader again.
"I'm not in the least bit interested in the DA leadership."
Zille said she didn't need to be in a leadership position to be effective, but would prefer to play a behind-the-scenes role "in putting together the systems, structures and processes" of the DA.
Working with Maimane would also not be problematic, Zille said. Maimane conceded to Rapport that his relationship with Zille had become strained.
"We have had a difficult relationship in the past. But, for us, the focus is on the future. Let the delegates decide on the future of the DA," Maimane said.
Maimane's leadership of the organisation is set to be under the spotlight when the party gathers for a crucial federal council meeting on October 18. It's expected that the meeting will receive a review of the DA's lacklustre performance at the polls in May, elect a new federal chairperson and possibly grapple with the issue of an early conference, News24 reported.
In recent weeks, Maimane has had to answer tough questions about his use of a hired vehicle and his home in Claremont.
But Zille says she will have no problem working in a committed way with any party leader, "particularly Mmusi, whom I supported strongly to become the leader in 2015".
"I will certainly support [Maimane] in the position of [party] leader. I support any duly constitutionally elected position in the party.
"My job as federal chairperson - if I am elected - would not be to start acting outside of my mandate and manipulating processes. On the contrary, the job is to make sure the processes work smoothly, freely and fairly."
Asked to respond to a column by City Press editor Mondli Makhanya in which he wrote that the appointment of Zille would alienate black voters, Zille said there was "absolutely no evidence of that".
'Too much at stake'
"Votes from black South Africans grew under my leadership," Zille said. "Besides, as chair of the federal council I won't be engaging with voters. It's an internal party position."
Zille said while it was her "absolute, committed intention to draw back permanently" since resigning as premier, she decided during the course of last week that "there was too much at stake".
"Many people approached me. I can't let the DA simply unravel without putting in a huge and final effort to help stop it.
"If I'm not elected, then I'm not elected and I'll move on. But if I can have one last chance at making sure we are on track again then I'd like to do that."